Tag Archives: Libby Fischer Hellmann

Stat monkeys astound me

KBIt’s January 1, 2013, and the stat monkeys at WordPress have issued my blog’s annual report.  Literary Lunchbox has grown exponentially this year, to my delight and astonishment.  The nitty-gritty details are fascinating to me, “meh” to you, so here are just a few highlights.

I’ve had over 22,000 page views in 2012.  The busiest day of the year was October 9, for no discernible reason whatsoever.  My post for that day featured Breakfast Club actress Molly Ringwald and called her book “better than expected.”

My reviews of the Harry Potter book and movies have attracted the largest number of visitors, followed by MWA Edgar nominee reviews/rankings.  Edgar smack-downs, if you will.  Posts about Laura Lippman, Christa Faust, Carol O’Connell and Libby Fischer Hellmann all generated lots of visits to my blog, as well.  (Thank you, ladies!)

How are they finding me?  Tons through Google.  Google UK, Google France, even.  Facebook and Goodreads also account for a good number of visitors, as does She Writes.  Linked In, not so much.  Pinterest is making headway, considering that I just started using it for this purpose!   I have a couple of dozen followers – people who have signed up to get my blog via RSS feed.  Some of them are even people I don’t know personally.  I’m grateful to all.

Whence came they?  Mostly from the United States, but 135 countries in total were represented, and the U.K. and Canada were pretty big.

Is the conversation two-way?  Um, not so much.  I don’t get a lot of comments, and when I do get one, it really gives me a thrill.  Even when they’re nakedly plugging own web site.  As in “Great post, Karen, you might be interested in my thoughts on a similar topic, nude sumo wrestling!  Just click here.”  Because I tend to respond positively to comments, I am my own #1 commenter.  Sad, really.

What’s ahead for 2013?  I’m giving some thought to a second blog… not that this one doesn’t suck up a lot of time and energy!  Topic?  Business, organizational behavior, marketing, consumer behavior, etc.   Still pondering, though.

So to all Literary Lunchbox visitors, thanks so much for your interest and support this year!  The community of readers is a wonderful one and I’m proud and happy to be a part of your community.  Happy 2013!

new year

Greetings from Bouchercon!

I’m on a four-day literary extravaganza! Bouchercon is the annual fest for fans and writers of mystery, crime, thriller, suspense, and related subgenres (graphic novels, anyone?).  Mostly a fan event, numbers are not in for this year, but attendance in 2010 topped 1,600.

Although I know more writers than I did in the past, I’m still bowled over to be in the room with luminaries such as Val McDermid, Jan Burke, Parnell Hall, Jeremiah Healy, Charlaine Harris… the list goes on.  And on.

Yesterday began with a six a.m. pickup from my friend Addy, chauffeur and roommate extraordinaire.  (For which I am eternally grateful – she had to get up at 4:30 to make this happen!)  We drove to St. Louis, checked in to the super-lovely Renaissance Grand Hotel, and then walked over to the ever-so-opposite Holiday Inn Select, where Sisters in Crime was holding its pre-conference workshop for writers.  It’s the only event specifically for writers… so I was pumped to go.

The event was an incredible value for the $50 reg fee.  Speakers included:

  • David Wilk, CEO, Booktrix, on the state of publishing
  • Libby Fischer Hellmann, author (most recently, Set the Night on Fire, a standalone thriller), on comparing traditional and e-publishing
  • Cathy Pickens and Jim Huang (author and bookseller respectively) on getting your book into print
  • Marcia Talley and Ellen Hart, popular mystery authors with long backlists, on do-it-yourself publishing on Kindle

Most useful session for me?  Do-it-yourself publishing on Kindle.  Marcia and Ellen talked very knowledgeably about what to do, step by step.  For published authors with a backlist of out of print books, this means new life – and new money- with this new channel for introducing your fiction to new audiences.  (Get your rights back!)

Personally, I have a super-fun book that I have given up on pitching – it’s not a mystery.  I came away convinced that I can freshen this up (wrote it so many years ago that my popular references are sure to be dated), format it myself, get an ISBN number, get my ever-so-talented graphic designer husband to do me a cover, price it at $2.99 or $3.99, upload it to Amazon and let my employer know I’m about to retire. (Just kidding on that last one.)

The Sisters in Crime Event included a banquet with a very amusing after-dinner speech by author Meg Gardiner. Meg writes the Evan Delaney series about a Santa Barbara attorney and the Jo Beckett series about a forensic psychiatrist which were published worldwide, but not in the U.S., until Stephen King wrote an article about her books in Entertainment Weekly. Fourteen publishers called the next day.  I was drinking coffee and paper-and-penless during her speech, but I sent myself a series of emails so I could remember some key points.

Email #1:  Meg’s blog is called Lying for a Living.   She’s also on WordPress. Sister!

Email #2:  First published book was China Lake.  I bought it – and several others she authored – today in the Bouchercon book room because when she talked about China Lake, she commented that “a big, big story will expand your readership.”  Now I want to see a big, big story… I fear mine are tiny, itsy-bitsy stories…

Email #3:  “Left Behind in the E-book Rapture.”  Or at least that’s what my email was supposed to say, iPhone corrected it to “Left Behind in the Snook Rapture.” I love the phrase and the point she’s making – e-books are not going away. Not there?  It’s not too late.  And if you can focus on a big career, this is going to all come naturally.

So that’s it.  I have a giant list of cool blogs, websites, resources, and more… a bulging book bag full of new purchases and a Bouchercon tote bag full of books that I got FOR FREE repeat FOR FREE… several new friends and a few days to go.  More later.

Lit Fest: D’Amato, Hellmann, Keller shine at Grace Place

Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago’s South Loop is an amazing place… beautiful, unusual architecture that leads to a feeling of community and contemplation.  In short, an amazing place for Lit Fest’s session where the Tribune’s Julia Keller interviewed Barbara D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann.  Of course, the photo here – from the church website – features more sacred use of that place!

Barbara D'Amato

Both Barb and Libby have been president of the national organization Sisters in Crime, founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to the clear preference among publishers, reviewers, and others for male authors.   The movement began with a letter from novelist Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America re: sex discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar Awards.  At that time, in 41 years, only seven women had received Edgars.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Asked by Keller about Sisters in Crime, the panelists shared that the organization still monitors reviews, reporting that a full 70% of books reviewed have a male author.  By pointing out the lack of balance directly to the reviewers, some progress had been made (60/40), but backsliding has definitely occurred.  SINC looks at published reviews, and everyone agreed that although these are highly visible and very important, the growth in reviews on the internet, through blogs, Amazon, and the like, has become a big factor in recent years, and this is more egalitarian.

I’m a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and support them both.  But it is interesting to see the trajectory of various authors, and there does seem to be a “pecking order” that places thrillers above police procedurals above cozies, for example.

But there’s no doubt Barb D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann are masters of the craft, and they shared some pearls with the audience, many of whom were aspiring authors:

  • Libby makes sure to put a clue in the first few pages; she likes to “play fair” with the readers and thinks that withholding all the clues until late in the book is not doing so.
  • Barb uses a couple of sheets from a legal pad to plot out all the “surprises” in the book… mostly “to keep them all from showing up in chapter 3.”
  • Both women have experienced “pauses” – it hasn’t all been success and roses.  Barb had two books published, then six fallow years.  Libby said her first book sold was actually the fourth book written.  She didn’t want to revisit, though she has cannibalized characters!
  • Although both Barb and Libby are almost constantly writing, they agree that “the book you’re not writing yet is the best one.”  Julia commented that Iris Murdoch said that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
  • What authors do these authors enjoy reading?  Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Marcus Sakey, Kent Krueger, Sean Chercover, Declan Hughes, and Dennis Lehane were all mentioned.

The conversation was very ably moderated by Julia Keller, who writes for the Tribune and is a published author herself, with two previous books and her first mystery coming out in the coming months.  She’s articulate and insightful, and listening to her in conversation is as pleasurable as reading her work in print.  

This year’s Lit Fest: Plan ahead!

The 2009 Printers’ Row Lit Fest was the topic for the first-ever Literary Lunchbox blog post… and here we are, two years 140 posts later, about to head to Lit Fest again.  After last year’s rainy Fest, this year’s weather forecast leads me to plan my 2011 Printers’ Row Lit Fest trip for Saturday, June 4.  It’ll be hot and sunny and before the expected storms on Sunday.

Saturday does look like a good day.  There are numerous mystery-themed events on stage, starting out with Murder Most Cozy at 10 a.m. at the Harold Washington Library.  Moderated by FB friend Julie Hyzy, it should be good even though I’m not personally acquainted with panelists Betty Hechtman, Ellery Adams, and Joelle Charbonneau.   I have  few days and a Kindle.

The always-excellent Julia Keller is moderating a panel, A Killer History, at 12:30 pm at Grace Place.  It features personal faves Libby Fischer Hellmann and Barbara D’Amato, with Graham Moore.  (Not that he isn’t deserving of fave status.  I’m sure after seeing him, he’ll be one.)

1:45 will be a tough, tough time slot.  At the University Center, Tasha Alexander is moderating The Future of the Mystery Novel, with David Heinzmann, Andrew Grant, Sharon Fiffer and the lovely-and-popular Luisa Buehler.   At the same time at the Hotel Blake, Victoria Lautman is interviewing Ann Packer, who wrote The Dive From Clausen’s Pier (one of my all-time favorites) and her new and well-reviewed work, Swim Back to Me.  How to decide? It’d be tough, but The Future panel is already sold out (limited seating in this venue requires tickets).  So it’s Ann Packer for me.

3:30 is dreamboat time (you know you agree with me) with the pair-up of Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover at the Harold Washington Library.  Great authors, enthralling books, and members of the Chicagoland literary-and-articulate-yet-ever-so-slightly-dangerous-mystery-author set.  It’s a small group, but if you’re in, you know who you are.

This is followed by a Pitchapalooza at Center Stage with David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, coauthors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  I’m not sure what this entails, but hope to find out before Saturday.  I’ll have my 60-second pitch ready, just in case.

This is a pretty heavy schedule which leaves me little time for wandering through the stalls, looking at books, snapping iPhone photos of the city dogs of various sizes that trail behind their wandering masters, stopping off for coffee, and whatnot.  Plus if memory serves, there’s an awesome bookstore right there (sort of a coals-to-Newcastle kind of thing).  I foresee a lot of frantic dashing hither and yon.

Note to those attending:  events happening at the Harold Washington Library or the University Center require tickets… plan ahead!

Chicago Blues hits its mark

Editor Libby Fischer Hellman put together a worthwhile collection of Chicago mystery/crime stories in Chicago Blues, published in 2007.   I can’t believe it took me until 2010 to buy and read the book!

As she wrote, “Some of the twenty-one dark, edgy stories in Chicago Blues are about people who sing the Blues, and some are about people who wear the Blues.”  I meant to do a wrap-up of the stories, as each one seemed even better than the last, but neglected to do so until Jenny reminded me.

Although all 21 of the stories are well-chosen, well-written, and fun to read, the ones that featured music had an edge for me.  I set out to rate the stories, but found that they were so consistently top-notch that my ratings were a series of very fine gradations.  And who’s to say that my four-star stories wouldn’t be five-star in your estimation, and vice-versa?

So, instead, here’s a listing of the short stories and a short comment from me. My top five stories – the ones that made me say “Wow” – are in bold.

  • Blue Note – Stuart M. Kaminsky   Great story with a change-up ending about the nature of love and of singing the blues.
  • O Death Where is Thy Sting – Kevin Guilfoile  Fun for its focus on obsession and twisty ending.
  • Your Sweet Man – Libby Fischer Hellman  O’Henry-esque.
  • Good Evenin’, Blues – Jack Fredrickson  In the shadow of the el, a bar owner struggles to make sense of it all.
  • Publicity Stunts – Sara Paretsky  VI Warshawski plays bodyguard for a right-wing media babe (think Ann Coulter blackmails Oral Roberts)
  • Guarding Lacey – Kris Nelscott  A Smokey Dalton story told from a kid’s POV.
  • Overproof – JA Konrath  A Lt. Jack Daniels story about suicide by cop.
  • The Non Compos Mentis Blues – Sean Chercover  Ray Dudgeon noir.
  • Scrap – Max Allan Collins  Nate Heller in a union mystery with a twist
  • Chasing the Blues – Michael A. Black  Vice cop secrets.
  • Blind Man Blues – Steven B. Mandel  Cop Billy Call carries a torch for his long-missing former flame.  Or is she?
  • A Weekend in the Country – David A. Walker  The blue brotherhood and father-and-son relationships with a bitter edge.
  • A Shade of Blue – Michael Allen Dymmoch  John Thinnes and the return of repressed memories.
  • The Test – Sam Reaves  The nature of friendship in the Outfit.  True blue, but still a downer.
  • My Heroes Have Always Been Short Stops – D.C. Brod  True blue Cubs fan and murder.
  • Code Blue – Mary V. Welk  Vigilante nurse.  A little over the top.
  • The Sin-Eater – Sam Hill  Powerful short story about family redemption.
  • No One – Marcus Sakey  Mr. Ordinary fights his hair-trigger temper, and loses.
  • The Blue Line – Ronald Levitsky  Body guard but all goes wrong
  • Lower Wacker Blues – Brian Pinkerton  Childhood games carried into adulthood lead to tragedy
  • The Lower Wacker Hilton – Barbara D’Amato  Suze Figueroa and Norm Bennis find out that the lowest of the low still own things worth killing for.

If you’ve read the book, take a minute and let me know what stories were your favorites!

Halfway through Chicago Blues

Yesterday I hit the Book Table looking for a couple of presents and snatched up a copy of Chicago Blues.  This anthology of mystery/crime stories is edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann and features tons of familiar Chicago authors.  I am supposed to be working on minutes of a staff meeting and an agenda for an advisory group meeting at work… and I don’t wanna!  Chicago Blues has me totally hooked.

I’m transitioning from fun to work with this blog post.  After I finish the book, I’ll write again to say what stories were particularly good… but I have to tell you, I’m halfway through and there is not a clinker in the bunch.  Thumbs up.

Also – thanks to the Book Table!  This great Oak Park independent bookstore has books and more, all at a discount, and there are always great finds.   As it is Small Business Saturday, I will suggest that my dozens of readers all stampede down there right away to support them… or, if impractical, stampede someplace closer to support your local independent bookstore.

Tom Schreck and Libby Hellman emcee Murder & Mayhem

I spent today at the Muskego Public Library in Wisconsin, at the Sixth Annual Murder and Mayhem in Muskego conference.   This all-day conference for mystery fans was headlined by Libby Fischer Hellmann and Tom Schreck. Libby – former videographer and now full-time author – writes the Ellie Forman and Georgia Davis mystery series.  Tom used to be a drug counselor and is now a world championship boxing official.  He writes the Duffy Dumbrowski mystery series.  I’ve read Libby – she’s reliably interesting, solid stories and characters you want to get to know.  Tom is new to me but I have it on good authority that his books are hilarious.  Needless to say, they were a great tag team as our hosts for the day.   Repartee was witty.

It was a wonderful day – the panels were packed full of interesting authors, the attendees were all good natured, most fans but many writers, children’s librarian Penny who organized the whole thing a genial magician making it all happen.  The cozy panel went over bigger than the one on noir and Ridley Pearson, as the guest of honor, was ridiculously entertaining.  The $25 entry fee included a canvas bag full of books, a full day of programming, and lunch.  I’ve spent more for just lunch!

I’ll write more when in a future post or two.  But for now, kudos to all and my hearty recommendation for Murder and Mayhem in Muskego VII – look for it this time next year.